Monday, May 5, 2014

The First of the Dynasty Enters Berlin

Featuring Thomas Carlyle

Previously on The House of Hohenzollern Established in Brandenburg

Time: 1414
Place: Berlin, Germany

Burggraf Friedrich, on his first coming to Brandenburg, found but a cool reception as Statthalter. He came as the representative of law and rule; and there had been many helping themselves by a ruleless life, of late. Industry was at a low ebb, violence was rife; plunder, disorder, everywhere; too much the habit for baronial gentlemen to "live by the saddle," as they termed it, that is, by highway robbery in modern phrase.

The towns, harried and plundered to skin and bone, were glad to see a Statthalter, and did homage to him with all their heart. But the baronage or squirearchy of the country were of another mind. These, in the late anarchies, had set up for a kind of kings in their own right. They had their feuds; made war, made peace, levied tolls, transit dues; lived much at their own discretion in these solitary countries; rushing out from their stone towers ("walls fourteen feet thick"), to seize any herd of "six hundred swine," and convoy of Lübeck or Hamburg merchant goods, that had not contented them in passing. What were pedlers and mechanic fellows made for, if not to be plundered when needful? Arbitrary rule, on the part of these noble robber lords! And then much of the crown domains had gone to the chief of them--pawned (and the pawn-ticket lost, so to speak), or sold for what trifle of ready money was to be had, in Jobst and Company's time. To these gentlemen a Statthalter coming to inquire into matters was no welcome phenomenon. Your Edle Herr (noble lord) of Putlitz, noble lords of Quitzow, Rochow, Maltitz, and others, supreme in their grassy solitudes this long while, and accustomed to nothing greater than themselves in Brandenburg, how should they obey a Statthalter?

Such was more or less the universal humor in the squirearchy of Brandenburg; not of good omen to Burggraf Friedrich. But the chief seat of contumacy seemed to be among the Quitzows, Putlitzes, above spoken of; big squires in the district they call the Priegnitz, in the country of the sluggish Havel River, northwest from Berlin a forty or fifty miles. These refused homage, very many of them; said they were "incorporated with Böhmen"; said this and that; much disinclined to homage; and would not do it. Stiff, surly fellows, much deficient in discernment of what is above them and what is not: a thick-skinned set; bodies clad in buff leather; minds also cased in ill habits of long continuance.

Friedrich was very patient with them; hoped to prevail by gentle methods. He "invited them to dinner"; "had them often at dinner for a year or more:" but could make no progress in that way. "Who is this we have got for a Governor?" said the noble lords privately to each other: "A Nuremberger Tand" (Nuremberg plaything--wooden image, such as they make at Nuremberg), said they, grinning, in a thick-skinned way: "If it rained Burggraves all the year round, none of them would come to luck in this country;" and continued their feuds, toll-levyings, plunderings, and other contumacies.

Seeing matters come to this pass after above a year, Burggraf Friedrich gathered his Frankish men-at-arms; quietly made league with the neighboring Potentates, Thüringen and others; got some munitions, some artillery together--especially one huge gun, the biggest ever seen, "a twenty-four pounder," no less; to which the peasants, dragging her with difficulty through the clayey roads, gave the name of Faule Grete (Lazy or Heavy Peg); a remarkable piece of ordnance. Lazy Peg he had got from the Landgraf of Thüringen, on loan merely; but he turned her to excellent account of his own. I have often inquired after Lazy Peg's fate in subsequent times; but could never learn anything distinct; the German Dryasdust is a dull dog, and seldom carries anything human in those big wallets of his!

Equipped in this way, Burggraf Friedrich (he was not yet Kurfürst, only coming to be) marches for the Havel Country (early days of 1414); makes his appearance before Quitzow's strong house of Friesack, walls fourteen feet thick: "You, Dietrich von Quitzow, are you prepared to live as a peaceable subject henceforth? to do homage to the laws and me?" "Never!" answered Quitzow, and pulled up his drawbridge. Whereupon Heavy Peg opened upon him, Heavy Peg and other guns; and, in some eight-and-forty hours, shook Quitzow's impregnable Friesack about his ears. This was in the month of February, 1414, day not given: Friesack was the name of the impregnable castle (still discoverable in our time); and it ought to be memorable and venerable to every Prussian man. Burggraf Friedrich VI, not yet quite become Kurfürst Friedrich I, but in a year's space to become so, he in person was the beneficent operator; Heavy Peg and steady human insight, these were clearly the chief implements.

Quitzow being settled--for the country is in military occupation of Friedrich and his allies, and except in some stone castle a man has no chance--straightway Putlitz or another mutineer, with his drawbridge up, was battered to pieces, and his drawbridge brought slamming down. After this manner, in an incredibly short period, mutiny was quenched; and it became apparent to noble lords, and to all men, that here at length was a man come who would have the laws obeyed again, and could and would keep mutiny down.

The End

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